Promoting academic success and wellbeing through sport

Jo Hackett, director of sport at Loughborough Schools Foundation, looks at the role sport plays in supporting pupil wellbeing and academic success – and how to engage those who are more reluctant

Readers of this magazine, perhaps keen sportsmen and women themselves, know how rewarding it is to watch pupils running around the hockey pitch, tackling a muddy cross-country course or going head-to-head with other schools at swimming galas.   

School is the perfect place for children to try new activities and develop the fitness, strength and mindset that will serve them well, both in sport and in life. It is no secret that people who are physically active have a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression and many more conditions.

Despite overwhelming evidence that exercise is good for us, society is still letting the next generation down by not making it part of their lives. It doesn’t help, of course, that some schools have been forced to sell off playing fields, nor that PE might be deemed less important than core academic subjects.

Yet there is good reason why discussions around sport focus as much on mental as physical health. Endorphins released during exercise lift the mood and clear the mind, helping pupils to reduce stress, process ideas and be more productive in their academic work.

An hour spent away from the classroom, coursework or revision is well worth it if it means young people return refreshed, relaxed and ready to learn. Not only that but they are also developing the skills and attributes needed throughout life, from tactics and teamwork, to adaptability, resilience and confidence.

Team sports and activities play a large part in our provision at Loughborough Schools Foundation (LSF) and here is where pupils can gain so much insight into working with others; it is widely believed that this is the learning ground for resilience and how to overcome adversity. It helps students when they leave school and enter the world of further education and later employment.

Team sports play a large part in the school’s provision

Encouraging all

Engaging pupils with a natural ability and passion for sport is one thing – but what about those who are more reluctant, perhaps because they dislike competition, are worried they lack skills and/or struggle with body confidence?

Teenage girls, as every PE teacher knows, are among the hard-to-reach groups, not least because they are at a stage in their development when they are likely to feel insecure about their appearance.

But, with a little creativity, we can overcome whatever barriers they face.

At one school I worked at, we came up with the idea of blacking out the gym and playing a game of glow-in-the-dark dodgeball by attaching glowsticks to our clothes and the equipment. With a broad range of activities, that could include Zumba, spinning, dance and non-competitive jogging, you can motivate those who don’t like traditional school sports.

Sporting provision today is about thinking outside the box and ensuring that there is something to engage and interest everyone and develop a lifelong love of exercise.

Sporting provision today is about thinking outside the box and ensuring that there is something to engage and interest everyone and develop a lifelong love of exercise

Loughborough Amherst School is the proud home of Hahn House, a boarding house for the country’s junior tennis stars, which opened in September. Working in partnership with Loughborough University and the Lawn Tennis Association, we are looking forward to supporting future champions both on the tennis court and in the academic studies.

Not every child can be a world tennis ace, but they should be encouraged to develop a lifelong love of sport, and be inspired by positive role models, during their school years. By promoting a strong culture around physical exercise, which is inclusive yet still challenges pupils, they are empowered to improve their own health and wellbeing, now and later in life.

Last, but certainly not least, the benefits of sport should not be limited to timetabled PE classes for pupils nor even extra-curricular clubs and matches. This is why we encourage our staff to use the facilities at the school and also host fitness classes, sporting events and activity days. In so doing, we hope more people will have an opportunity to look after their mental and physical health, and support others to do the same.

Jo Hackett